Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 31

Mary-Louise Harding l

ooks at the challenges of communicating between health and social care services

When developing joint services and partnership working between social services and the NHS, Hampshire's 11 district councils and seven primary care trusts offer one of the more complex challenges.

Helen Clanchy is one of seven partnership managers employed jointly across health and social care, specifically, in her case, by Blackwater Valley and Hart PCT and Hampshire social services.

Facilitating effective communication across professional and cultural boundaries is the key to her role. 'The seven partnership managers are fairly unique as we cover all client groups, not just adults or children, ' explains Ms Clanchy. 'We have to manage things that get in the way of improving services through partnership, which can sometimes be language, or the way budgets are constructed or how services have historically formed.'

Ms Clanchy acts as the 'social care rep' on her PCT board and professional executive committee, and also gets involved with front-line staff 'on both sides'.

She says the main challenge of managing partnerships is 'opening up the channels' and ensuring that professionals and service users/patients have the right information, such as ensuring that GPs know about new numbers for disability or mental health teams that can be reached out of hours. 'A GP might decide not to bother contacting social services because they may not have been able to get through three years ago. So the challenge here is to ensure that all primary care settings are well informed about improved services, and how to access them, to get the system working again, ' she says.

Lack of geographical fit (co-terminosity) between health and social care agencies, as there is in Hampshire, can be a deterrent to information sharing.However, Ms Clanchy says these are slowly being overcome through development in areas such as performance indicators.

'Performance sharing and the increased use of joint performance indicators can provide a real challenge to both systems but also a spur to closer working practice, ' she says. 'For example, the current performance indicators for the health of 'looked after' or in-care children, and those around reducing delayed discharges and improving intermediate care and community services for older people, cannot be delivered without co-operation between the PCTs and social services.'

Major challenges to information sharing lie in the application of the data protection laws, or, in some cases, confusion about how the law should be applied.

Ms Clanchy says new guidance is needed. 'There are times when the data protection act seems to be getting in the way. People need to understand clearly what they can and cannot do. People are understandably wary, particularly following Soham.'